Poor families in Delaware struggle more than national average, study says

If you grow up poor in certain parts of the country, the odds are definitely stacked against you – and unfortunately, those odds are worse in Delaware than in most places.

That’s a reality shown in the work of Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, two Harvard economists whose recent research into income inequality continues to draw headlines. A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times used their data to create a remarkable story – a detailed look at each county in the country, ranked according to its potential for income mobility.

You can take a look at it here, and the story will adjust based on where you are reading it around the country. But if you happen to live in Delaware, you’ll see that our state still has a long way to go.

New Castle County scores better than Kent and Sussex counties, but even New Castle County is below national averages. The study shows that a poor child growing up in New Castle County can expect to draw an annual income at age 26 that’s $2,290 lower than peers in other counties. In Sussex County, that same child would make $3,090 less a year.

How can counties improve the chances of success for all of their citizens? Researchers found five factors that help: Less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households.

I’m encouraged that two of these are topics of vigorous conversation in Wilmington and the surrounding area. For the past several years, reducing crime and improving schools have been top priorities in both the public and private spheres in the area, and there’s hope for positive change on the horizon.

Affordable housing projects are a vitally important strategy in reducing segregation by income and race. Studies show that a family’s move to a less impoverished neighborhood can have a significant effect on a child’s potential and prospects, and that is an opportunity that only quality, affordable housing can provide.

“The broader lesson of our analysis,” Chetty and Hendren write, “is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level.”

Based on their work, we know that Delaware is behind the curve, and we know how we can do better. It’s in our power to make changes that will continue to have a real impact decades from now. And that’s something to keep in mind as we set direction for Delaware’s future.

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